LONDON—One victim left behind only a handful of change, another a haunting final voice mail. One never even got the chance to cry.
Britain on Monday began the first phase of its public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower blaze with emotional memorials to some of the 72 people killed nearly a year ago. In tearful tributes, families told of final phone calls with those trapped as the fire swept through and of frantic journeys to the low-income tower block in search of them.
More than 500 people, including survivors, bereaved relatives and local residents are participating in the first phase of the inquiry, which is expected to last until November.
“During the coming days there will be much sorrow,” said Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of the inquiry. But the retired judge said he hoped that sorrow would be “tempered by memories of past happiness, of times spent together and of former joys.”
The first two weeks of the investigation are focused on the tributes, which Mr. Moore-Bick called “an integral part of the evidence” that would help make sure the truth comes out.
Public inquiries in the U.K. cover issues of serious concern and can make recommendations. Mr. Moore-Bick has said previously that he wouldn’t avoid findings that could lead to civil or criminal charges.
The scale of the inquiry highlights the difficulties for the U.K. government in deciding how and whether to hold people and corporations to account. The first phase of the investigation will cover how the fire started and spread, and the second will look at how the building’s design may have exposed it to such a serious risk.
The inquiry heard the final voicemail left by Saber Neda, 57 years old, who lived on the top floor of the 24-story apartment block. In the message, he told his brother, “Goodbye, we are now leaving this world, goodbye. I hope I haven’t disappointed you, goodbye to all.”
Mr. Neda’s widow, Flora Neda, said in a statement read out by her advocate that her husband would “always be the love of my life.”
Marcio Gomes, whose son Logan was stillborn in the hours after the blaze that destroyed his apartment, said he was fortunate enough to hold his baby in his arms as his wife, Andreia Perestrelo, and two daughters lay in comas after the fire.
“God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers and certainly this has been our hardest battle,” Mr. Gomes told the inquiry. His wife and two daughters survived.
The family of Denis Murphy, 66, said they spoke to him at 2:32 a.m. on the night of the fire and had no idea that would be the last time they heard his voice. “The only possessions we have left [of his are] a recovered handful of coins,” Mr. Murphy’s sister, Anne-Marie Murphy, told the inquiry. “He would give you his last pennies if you ever needed them.”
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